Last week New Orleans-based indie folk band Hurray for the Riff Raff, came to the Norwich Arts Center giving myself, and fellow SALSA Collective co-creator Eilidh, a wonderful opportunity to reunite after several months apart and to say goodbye before my big move back to the United States. And wow! What a way to honour a beautiful friendship; not least because the band produces some incredible music but because Eilidh and I have been very inspired by the band’s Puerto Rican front-woman, Alynda Lee Segarra.
It is not purely Alynda’s musical talents that had us enthralled from the start but the powerful and at times sombre messages embedded within her music. Songs on the latest album, Small Town Heroes, acknowledge violence against women’s bodies (The Body Electric), persistent gun violence in New Orleans (St. Roch Blues), feminism (Nothin Gonna Change This Girl), and the love for ones community–whatever and wherever that may be (Blue Ridge Mountain). And because her story, presence, and music is so moving, we thought we’d share a little about our experience getting to see and meet her (yes, that’s right meet her!)! If you haven’t given the band a listen yet, this is your official invitation to do so right now! I promise, we are doing you a great service.
A Little About Alynda Lee and HFTRR
Alynda left home at age 17, riding trains around the U.S. with fellow teenage runaways honing her musical craft before ending up in New Orleans, a city which serves as a major influence on the band’s folky and southern sounds. Alynda even sings with a southern twang that is organic and appropriate for the American roots genre. While Hurray for the Riff Raff is a New Orleans based band, Alynda is a Bronx-raised Puerto Rican. The intersectionality of these identities (and many more) is a complexity that is included in the band’s sound, lyrics, and in Alynda’s stage presence. She invites us into her heart and mind introducing the circumstances that inspired each song before she dazzles you with her music, her politics, and her voice. And just in case you miss her lyrical advocacy for women’s rights, the LGBTQ community, and/or her ties to Puerto Rico, she pays tribute to them by displaying the Puerto Rican flag and Rainbow flag unapologetically on stage and in some cases on the band’s album covers.
Proud, and perhaps overwhelmed, at seeing a fellow Latina on stage (this is Norwich, England after all), I could not help but express some kind of solidarity. I needed to communicate how honored I was to be in her presence; how thrilled I was to have her voice and perspectives included in this typically male and white dominated genre. So I gave a good and literal shout out to ¡Puerto Rico! And as if the gig wasn’t incredible enough, Alynda herself was fabulously humble and charming. Even as I rushed her at the meet and greet table babbling, ‘I’m the one who screamed ¡Puerto Rico! I’m Latina too!’ Ever cool and collected, Alynda appeared genuinely excited to meet me and gave me a button that read: Latin People Power. And it is this nod to her roots and to the empowerment of marginalised communities more generally that makes the music and her presence so captivating. She ended the set with a simple and yet provocative message: “The world is pretty messed up, let’s make it better.”
If you’d like to learn more about Hurray for the Riff Raff check out their website included in the links above. Alternatively, Alynda is featured in an interview with Latino USA that you can listen to here. If you are not subscribed to their podcast already do it! The band is also on Twitter at @HFTRR.